If you’re new here, I recently got engaged and am now in the midst of planning a September 2024 wedding. While being on the other side of planning is new for me, a lot of this isn’t, so I want to use this season to provide as much insight as I can via this blog. Today’s topic: a timeline for booking wedding vendors.
Where to start.
We didn’t really do much the first few months of getting engaged outside of setting a date and locking in a venue. But, now that we have hit that 18 month mark, we’re slowly starting to vendor shop and get some things done. Once my busy season hits my own wedding will go on the back burner and I want to try and stay ahead of the game to avoid any feelings of stress. So, I just want to thoroughly enjoy this experience as a bride without feeling like a vendor.
Going to share a timeline of our planning events in hope this will help those newly engaged couples who have no idea where to begin in regards to the “when should we have this done by” questions. But, noting that every wedding and every couple is different and on a different timeline for booking wedding vendors, so ITS OKAY if you aren’t on this schedule.
Before you start, DISCUSS YOUR BUDGET.
Make sure you’re on the same page. Decide what vendors you’re willing to splurge on and which you are not. This will help set expectations for the planning process and also allow you to shop within your limits. Also, this will help set the pace of your timeline for booking wedding vendors.
1. The Venue
First up, the venue. This is the first thing that should be taken care of, because your remaining vendors will not book you without a contracted date and location. We locked in our location and date 22 months out because of my own personal work schedule, but I would say that the average person tries to lock in their date 12-18 months in advance. I have had couples do it on 6-9 months notice, and I have had couples throw a wedding together in less than 90 days. Whatever type of person/planner you are, as well as the time of year and location you want to get married, will dictate the answer to this question.
We ultimately decided that because of my 10 years in the wedding industry, we were going to create our own venue (because I didn’t want to get married somewhere that I have already photographed, lol) and have partnered with Blue Peak Tents to rent a sail cloth tent and set it up in a beautiful nature center in St. Charles, IL.
At 18 months out, this is the only thing we have booked.
And that is perfectly okay with us. Things we are doing now: looking for a hotel(s) for room blocks, inquiring with photographers/videographers, looking for food and drink options (going non traditional with this), and we are in the process of booking our florist. We are booking our florist first because she’s a friend of mine and I didn’t have to make any decisions/inquire with multiple people to find someone. It’s also where we will likely spend the most money, so we wanted to get that deposit taken care of as soon as possible.
2. The Planner
If you are not a wedding vendor like me, after you secure your venue and date, I’d recommend that your second vendor booked is your planner (12-18 months out.) In some cases, couples will hire their planner beforehand to help them secure the venue and date (this is a full service wedding planner, FYI. Not all of them do this.) If you are booking a full service wedding planner, they will take the reigns on booking your vendors within the proper time frames. But if you’re not going full service, keep on reading!
3. Photographer and Videographer
Obviously, the wedding photographer is going to tell you that photography and videography are your next steps in the wedding planning process. If you are following this timeline, the 12-18 month mark is where you’ll be at for these bookings as well. Again, it depends on who you want and what you’re after. A handful of the photographers I inquired with at 18 months out were already booked for 2024, but some of them weren’t and some of them hadn’t opened their books yet. My books usually open 12-18 months out, but I opened them for 2024 as soon as my own wedding date was set so I could build my work schedule around my wedding.
I have bookings as far as October 2024 at the moment (booked in February, so just over 18 months out.) My average client books 6-12 months out, so don’t feel pressured to book right away if the first person you inquire with is unavailable.
I love flowers so to everyone who knows me, it made sense that florals were my first vendor booked after we secured our venue. HOWEVER, if you need an order in which to book things, I would prioritize booking your florist shortly after you’ve booked your photographer and videographer. I’d guess most of my florist friends are booked about a year out, but some also have teams that do more than one wedding in a day, so don’t fret.
A lot of venues have in house catering, and even more have preferred lists of caterers that they work with; however, if those do not apply to you, the next vendor on your list is going to be catering. If you’re going the specialty route like we are, I would recommend having this done 10-12 months out. If you’re doing something like pizza or Portillo’s that is a restaurant that offers event catering, you can shorten that time frame. But if you’re looking to hire someone a little more specific/not franchised, I would start the search process sooner rather than later. Especially if you have a big guest list.
6. Entertainment (DJ, Band, Etc.)
This is one I’d recommend booking around the same time as the caterer, 10-12 months out. If you’re wanting a highly sought after band or a string quartet for your ceremony, I would recommend reaching out at the 12 month mark or earlier, but if you’re not partial to a specific DJ or music I think 10 months is about right.
This doesn’t apply for every wedding, but if you are getting married somewhere that doesn’t include seating, lights, etc: this should be included in your timeline for booking wedding vendors. I have already started searching for rentals just to start piecing a vision board together, but this is something you don’t need to have booked until 10-12 months out. Talking tables, chairs, linens, plates, cutlery, etc.
8. Invitations and Save the Dates
If you are going the custom route, I would recommend reaching out to your artist 12 months in advance because custom projects take time. If you’re going the semi-custom DIY route, 9 months is usually good. Lastly, if you’re going with something like Minted, you’re probably gucci with 6 months.
For save the dates, I would have those mailed out to guests at the 9-12 month out mark.
9. The Dress and Suit
If you are not buying something straight off the rack, your wedding dress should be purchased at least 9 months out to ensure time for it to be made without having to pay to expedite production as well as having time for alterations. Shop when you’re ready, but also be conscious that the more custom you go, the more time (and money) it’s going to take to be made. Same applies here if you’re going with a custom suit or tuxedo.
If you know my fiance, you know his very athletic frame needs a custom jacket and we are so pumped to finally get him in a suit that is tailored to his build.
10. Rehearsal Dinner Venue
If you are unable to use your venue as a rehearsal dinner location, this will be something you want to do at the 6 month out mark. For a smaller wedding party, you might be able to get away with booking it closer to, but for a larger wedding party that you’ll need a private section at a restaurant for, 6 months is usually good.
Other things to consider:
Other things you’ll want to think about during the planning process are when to do engagement photos (if you’re using them for save the dates, plan accordingly), bachelor/bachelorette party planning, bridal shower plans, transportation for guests if needed, and day after wedding plans if that’s your thing. The planning process is supposed to be fun, but allow yourself to feel all the feelings and go at your own pace! Ultimately, this day is about YOU and your partner, not anyone else. Your timeline for booking wedding vendors should be done at your own pace.
If you’re at the planning stage where you’re looking for a photographer, inquire with me for 2023 or 2024 :’) Click here to get started.